Patricia Clark

Dividing It Up

August 28, 2013

If you had to divide your favorite things between yourself and somebody else, what would you keep? Patricia Clark, a Michigan poet, has it figured out. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]


You can have the grackle whistling blackly 
        from the feeder as it tosses seed,

if I can have the red-tailed hawk perched
        imperious as an eagle on the high branch.

You can have the brown shed, the field mice
        hiding under the mower, the wasp’s nest on the door,

if I can have the house of the dead oak,
        its hollowed center and feather-lined cave.

You can have the deck at midnight, the possum
        vacuuming the yard in its white prowl,

if I can have the yard of wild dreaming, pesky
        raccoons, and the roaming, occasional bear.

You can have the whole house, window to window,
        roof to soffits to hardwood floors,

if I can have the screened porch at dawn, 
        the Milky Way, any comets in our yard.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2004 by Patricia Clark, whose forthcoming book of poetry is Sunday Rising, Michigan State University Press, 2013. Poem reprinted from She Walks into the Sea, Michigan State University Press, 2009, by permission of Patricia Clark and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2013 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.


Getting Ready for What Comes Next--Beyond the Empty Nest

August 26, 2013

As you can imagine, the past few days—without our son—have been…different. Even though I looked forward to this day, planned for it, prepared for it, I underestimated the impact of that empty bedroom. That bedroom that still smells like him….

OK, enough of that.

For more than 19 years, Nick has been my first priority in most things, and suddenly—pfft—he’s gone. I’m not feeding, clothing or supervising him. Now if he sleeps in and misses class or lives like a slob in his dorm, I don’t have to do anything about it! It’s time to finish letting go, a process that started when he climbed, crying, out of the car to go to his first day of preschool.

Just as in any life transition, I expected a period of adjustment. Here are some things I’m finding helpful in my transition—you might also find them helpful during a transition of your own:
  • Scheduling things to look forward to—lunch with a friend, date night, a day off.  
  • Keeping busy with my normal routine, and even throwing in a few extra activities. That way I don’t have time to sit and mope.
  • Allowing myself to feel sad or lonely when those feelings come over me. I acknowledge my feelings, then let them go. Soon enough, more positive emotions replace these negative ones as I revel in not having so much responsibility for another person.
  • Not concentrating on the full scope of the change (he’s gone—maybe forever!), but enjoying the smaller, positive details (the kitchen is so clean after dinner!).
  • Talking with those who are going through or have recently gone through the same change, including my husband. I have several close friends whose children have left home for college, and I ran into a volunteer at my library bookstore who just took her daughter to college last week. We spent a few moments comparing what situations made us teary-eyed before wishing each other luck with the transition.

Like so many life changes, attitude makes a huge difference, and here I’m on solid ground. I’m mostly excited about what’s happening right now. I want my son to grow up and be on his own—that has always been my goal, and the fact that he is already quite independent is a credit to us. I’m looking forward to the extra time, emotional and physical energy I’ll be able to devote to other interests—to my husband, my writing, my horse, even my house. I’m choosing to see this as a time of exploration, adventure and rebirth. I’m eager to see what comes next.

What do you do to cope with the big transitions in life?


For Nick on Move-In Day

August 21, 2013

We move our son into his college dorm this afternoon, so here are some fitting words from Theodor Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss:

Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away! 
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own and you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”

Baby steps

Positive Procrastination

August 19, 2013

It’s summertime and my procrastination levels are as high as the humidity. Here are just a few things I did while I was supposed to be writing this blog post:

Read some of the “Funniest Reviews” on

Moved individual blog post files into my “Completed Blog Post” folder.

Changed the sheets on my bed. Changed the sheets on my son’s bed (he’s sick).

Added three books from the July/August issue of More magazine to my TBR list. (Kind of Cruel, Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers, and The Green Boat.)

Folded laundry.

Looked at pets up for adoption on

Washed the French doors that look out onto the lanai.

Now, it’s not that these things had no value—it’s just that they were, perhaps, not the best use of my time right then. However, I did eventually get a blog post written, and my house is a little cleaner and more orderly, so maybe procrastination can be positive after all? Yes, it can—if you use it for your benefit. John Tierney, writing in the New York Times, reported on what some researchers are calling “structured procrastination,” or “productive procrastination.” How it works, according to Tierney: Start your to-do list with a couple of “daunting, if not impossible, tasks that are vaguely important-sounding (but really aren’t) and seem to have deadlines (but really don’t).” Fill out the list with “doable tasks that really matter.” As one researcher says, “We are willing to pursue any vile task as long as it allows us to avoid something worse.” Hence my willingness to wash windows rather than sit down to write.

Positive procrastination: another tool I can use, along with the kitchen timer, baby steps, and rewards, to chip away at my resistance to writing and other meaningful projects I keep putting off.

Do you have any tricks to increase your productivity?

Inanimate objects

In Our Image

August 14, 2013

Here’s an observant and thoughtful poem by Lisel Mueller about the way we’ve assigned human characteristics to the inanimate things about us. Mueller lives in Illinois and is one of our most distinguished poets. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]


What happened is, we grew lonely
living among the things,
so we gave the clock a face,
the chair a back,
the table four stout legs
which will never suffer fatigue.

We fitted our shoes with tongues
as smooth as our own
and hung tongues inside bells
so we could listen
to their emotional language,

and because we loved graceful profiles
the pitcher received a lip,
the bottle a long, slender neck.

Even what was beyond us
was recast in our image;
we gave the country a heart,
the storm an eye,
the cave a mouth
so we could pass into safety.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press from Alive Together by Lisel Mueller. Copyright ©1996 by Lisel Mueller. Introduction copyright © 2013 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

Everyday adventures

Unexpected Happy

August 12, 2013

Happiness doesn’t always appear clothed in big events. Sure, it’s great to achieve that milestone or major goal, but if we wait for those occasions, our happy moments will be fewer than they need be. The more we take pleasure in what I call “happy little moments,” simple pleasures and everyday adventures, the more genuine satisfaction will fill our lives.

For instance, just a couple of weeks ago, we discovered that our pancake syrup bottle top has a smiley face:

I appreciate the extra effort the manufacturer took to make that opening look like a smiley face—the more smiling faces I see first thing in the morning, the better!

In addition, last Friday, I agreed to go to the courthouse in downtown Tampa with a friend who needed a copy of a document. We planned to eat lunch at Le Mouton Noir afterwards as a reward, but when we came out of the courthouse, we found several food trucks stationed around the park across the street. Tables and fans were set up and a man was playing the guitar and singing. One of the trucks proclaimed that it was winner of the “best Cuban” in Florida, and had a significant line of people waiting to order. Since the day was not overly hot (for Florida in August) and my friend has an abiding interest in Cuban sandwiches, we changed our plans, ordered our lunch and found a table in the shade. The sun played peek-a-boo behind the clouds and a small breeze kept us mostly comfortable (for Florida in August) as we ate our sandwiches and listened to the music. (Verdict: the sandwiches were tasty and generously sized, but I’d need to eat quite a few different ones to weigh in on whether they were “the best”.) We both kept saying, “I can’t believe we’re eating lunch outside in August and enjoying it!”

Both these recent experiences were unexpected (not actively pursued), and they both gave me little bursts of happy feeling that lasted longer than the time they took to occur. They reminded me to pay attention to happy little moments—and that those moments are there, even in something as insignificant as a syrup bottle.

What has made you unexpectedly happy?


Create a Story of Abundance

August 07, 2013

“Since we are always in choice (we might not choose the circumstance, but we choose how we are in it), why not create a story of abundance rather than lack, one of generosity rather than scarcity, of embrace rather than fear, of collaboration rather than comparison, of both/and instead of either/or, of resources rather than commodities, and of community rather than the individual alone?”
—Patti Digh, Creative Is a Verb


Summer Rerun--Sweet Summers

August 05, 2013

Note: I'm taking a more relaxed approach to blogging this summer, so occasionally I'm going to rerun a previous post. I hope you enjoy this one, from 2010.

With days growing longer—and hotter—and the kids about to be out of school, I find myself remembering sweet summers of my childhood, when I ran wild and free at my grandma’s house in Cottonwood, California.

My mom and I spent many vacations at Grandma’s together, but from the time I was about 8, during summer vacation I spent at least two weeks, sometimes a month or more, at her house on my own, without my mom. (Strangely, even when Grandpa was living, I always thought of the Cottonwood place as “Grandma’s house.”)

To get to Grandma’s house, we drove for at least eight hours, winding through flat farmland from our home in Southern California, to Cottonwood, population 3000-plus. I opened my car window to smell the alfalfa fields and watched the road signs eagerly, counting down the miles until our exit. Once I saw the Bowman Road sign, I could barely contain my anticipation. It would only be a matter of minutes until we reached Grandma’s house.

The tires crunched on the gravel driveway where we parked to unload. I would jump out of the car eagerly, running through a gate in the white picket fence. The little white house, trimmed in barn red, nestled there, like a hen sitting on her nest.

At home, I had only a tiny yard to play in. At Grandma’s house, I had 22 acres in which to roam freely. For a city girl, the cows, chickens, dog and cats held deep fascination. Accompanied by my grandparents’ dog, Taffy, I explored nearly every inch of the property, from the straw-yellow hills behind the house to the sweet-smelling cow barn, to the irrigated cow pasture where I tried to make friends with my grandparents’ beef cattle. Though I could never convince Grandma to get me a horse, I pretended to ride one—or pretended to be one—while exploring.

When I tired of galloping through the pasture, I swam in the irrigation ditch that ran behind Grandma’s house like my own personal river, caught frogs for frog swimming races, or stretched out on a beach towel on the wooden bridge that crossed the ditch, baking myself in the summer sun. Or I would read in a lawn chair under the huge oak in the front yard, listening to the soothing sound of chickens softly clucking while they searched a flower bed for tasty bugs. Occasionally, the rooster’s crow broke the quiet of the afternoon.

Grandma was a great cook and I ate slabs of her homemade bread covered in fresh butter or homemade jam all day long. I reveled in peaches and watermelon purchased from local produce stands, or plums picked right off the tree. For a special treat, sometimes Grandma would make boysenberry cobbler, the purple berries oozing juices through the crumbly top crust.

Grandma’s mother, Great Gram, lived across the street in a tiny, pink house and many evenings I’d go play Rummy with her. (One of my first lessons in sportsmanship came at the card table: You can’t play cards with the grown ups if you cry when you lose.) I loved to play cards with her, but I admit to an ulterior motive as well. She made the best milkshakes I’ve ever had. She’d pour canned Hershey’s syrup over several scoops of chocolate chip ice cream and icy milk, then mush up the whole concoction with an old-fashioned egg beater. It was so thick, I had to eat it with a spoon.

My mom and step dad live in the house with the red trim now. Sadly, we don’t get to visit very often, since we live 2500 miles away. But when we do make the trip to Cottonwood, I’m reminded that I was once a girl with no cares, running wild through a cow pasture and slurping up milkshakes without a thought of their calorie count.